Ask Dr. Forgiveness
If a person forgives too quickly, this usually means that the person is not ready to forgive. Thus, the person still may be:
- too traumatized to forgive right now. We need time to settle down before forgiving,
- misunderstand that forgiveness is a process and allow the self time to forgive and to heal,
- denying his or her anger and therefore not allowing oneself time to be angry,
- confusing forgiving and reconciling, thinking that one must go back into an unhealthy relationship right away
- not respecting the self as someone who deserves fairness,
- giving the other the wrong message that the forgiver will accept any and all injustices.
Taking the time to forgive can correct many or even all of the complications discussed above.
I worry that if I teach my children about forgiveness, then they may try it while misunderstanding it. They might excuse or even try to reconcile with someone who has bullied them in the past. What can you suggest so that I do not create a false sense of what forgiveness is as I teach them about it?
A key is to keep in front of the children the common misconceptions of forgiving:
- When you forgive, stay tough-minded in knowing that what the other did was wrong.
- When you forgive, that does not magically make the other’s actions right. Those actions remain wrong even when you forgive.
- Reconciliation occurs when you feel safe and can trust the person.
- If you do not feel safe, tell a responsible adult about this.
- You can forgive without reconciling.
- When you forgive, do not forget to seek fairness.
- You can and should exercise justice and forgiveness together. Forgiveness does not mean that you put up with another person’s unfairness.
Is it easier to forgive a person if you understand their past or might this just make you angrier? I find that sometimes, the more I know about a person, the angrier I get. In other words, I do see their own hurts from the past, but I still find their behavior toward me unacceptable regardless of what they have suffered.
When you look toward the person’s past, do you slip into the error of excusing what the other did? If you see that you are trying to excuse, that could make you angrier. After all, past hurts are no excuse to hurt others. If you can resist excusing and from a position of truly calling the other’s behavior wrong, what happens in your emotions when you see a wounded person, a confused person, perhaps a person manipulated or mistreated in other ways by important people in his or her life? Does this stir in you a little compassion, as long as you resist the conclusion that he or she just couldn’t help it?
In Chapter 15 of your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, you talk about false forms of forgiving. For example, a person may say, “I forgive you,” and do so with a sense of power and domination. My question is this: Are there false forms of seeking forgiveness and if so, how can I recognize them?
Yes, I think there are false forms of seeking and receiving forgiveness. As an example, the offending person says, “I apologize. I did not mean to hurt you.” Then he or she continues doing the same kinds of behavior that injured you in the first place. At that point, it may be helpful to first forgive (so that your deep anger does not come flying out) and say something like this, “You have apologized and yet you keep hurting me in the same way. What can we do so that the hurtful behavior ends and we can move on well together?” Apologies are not iron-clad guarantees that the person truly understands the depth of your hurt and the importance of changing the behavior. A gentle reminder like this might help.
I try to separate the offense from the offender, but I am having a hard time doing that. Do you have some suggestions for me?
Not knowing the concrete details of your particular situation, it is not easy to answer this one. Yet, here are some questions for you to consider:
- Do you see the person only in terms of the injury against you?
- Is there more to this person than those actions?
- Can you see any examples of when he or she treated you well?
- If you combine the injurious behavior and his or her good behaviors toward you, how are you seeing this person?
- Is he or she more than those injurious behaviors toward you?
- Who is this person when you see him or her more broadly like this?